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Roses don't have to be difficult to grow in Central Texas

Judy Barrett Special to the American-Statesman
Abraham Darby roses is a new breed from David Austin roses that should be considered. [Judy Barrett For American-Statesman]

“Moses supposes his toeses are roses

But Moses supposes erroneously

For nobody’s toeses are posies of roses

As Moses supposes his toeses to be!”

Now there is a misconception about roses that can easily be put to rest. But it is only one of many. Gardeners and nongardeners alike are plagued with myths, rumors, traditions, gossip and other unreliable information about roses, that most popular of flowers.

We hear roses are hard to grow. We hear they are relentlessly attacked by bugs, disease, fungi and mysterious ailments. We hear they require constant care and medication like some cranky old aunt who has chronic and unpleasant complaints of all sorts. We hear they can’t stand the heat or can’t stand the cold, wilt under the humidity or fry in the arid air. The list of reasons not to grow roses is long, yet we persevere. Why?

Because we love roses. They are beautiful, fragrant, full of history and lore, and in general make us feel better about the world and the people in it. Also, deep down in our hearts, we know that all those bad rumors about just how hard it is to grow roses can’t be true.

February is the perfect time to think about roses. We give them to our true loves on Valentine’s Day. On Feb. 14, we go outside to prune the roses we have growing, and it is an excellent time to add new rose bushes to our gardens. Therefore, it is also an excellent time to brush up on our rose lore.

Roses are hardy plants that can survive all sorts of attacks and ignorance. The key to happy rose growing is to select a variety that has proven itself in our climate. A lot of antique and old garden roses have been growing here, some untended, for a long time. And there are new roses that do just as well — David Austin English roses, Antique Rose Emporium Pioneer roses, Buck roses, and a lot of people swear by Knockout roses. (I personally think Knockouts have no character and are overused, but that’s just me.)

Finding the rose you love and that has a track record in Central Texas goes a long way toward success in growing them. The other requirements are a lot of sun, good air circulation, improved soil and occasional water. Just like any other garden plant, roses have to have nutrition to keep growing and blooming.

Given those basics, roses are easy to grow and rewarding to the gardener. Roses are good candidates for organic gardens because they respond beautifully to rich organic soil full of compost and natural minerals that drains well. Given sunlight and air circulation, fungi and disease will be transient and nonfatal. Roses are no more susceptible to disease than any other plant or animal. Most of the diseases common to roses are fungal. Black spot and powdery mildew are the most common. We have the sniffles, and our roses have black spot. They are minor ailments easily gotten over or ignored.

Compost tea has been used widely to control and discourage fungal infection. With compost tea foliar spray, you get the benefit of fungus control plus added fertility in the soil and in your plant. Compost adds trace minerals that make your soil and plants healthier and more resistant to disease.

If you are thinking about giving your true love a rose bush rather than a single rose, look into roses that have stories to tell. There are thousands of rose varieties available, and the stories span the globe and the centuries. You might just find a rose that is particularly appealing to you or your sweetie with a little research. For example, Francophiles and history buffs will love roses developed in France, including the famous Peace rose that was developed by a French rose breeder near the beginning of World War II and was kept alive by fellow rose growers during the war in gardens around the world. It was finally offered for sale in 1945 with the celebratory name of Peace on the same day that truce was declared in Germany.

If you like your history a little closer to home, consider Louis Philippe, a brilliant little red rose first brought to Texas by Francisco de Zavala, a signer of the Texas Declaration of Independence from Mexico. Closer still are the roses developed in recent years by Ray Ponton, a rose breeder in Taylor, just up the road from Austin.

Personal history also can be a link to roses. If you find or save roses from your past, they remind you of happy memories and people you care about. If you grew up admiring and playing beneath a big old Lady Banks rose, you will always feel a sense of happiness when you see the confettilike petals strewing the landscape. If your favorite grandmother made you corsages for church out of the pink sweetheart roses in her garden, there will always be a soft spot in your heart for pink sweetheart roses, and it is great to have those flowers in your own garden. It isn’t just nostalgia for times gone by; it is a way to keep happy memories and absent people alive in your present life.

You can grow roses in the ground or in large containers. You can grow small bushes or huge bushes or climbers or ramblers or miniatures that are just so cute! No matter which rose you choose (and you can rarely chose just one), you’ll be richly rewarded as the years go by.

Rose class with Mike Shoup, founder of Antique Rose Emporium

10 a.m. Saturday

Natural Gardener

8648 Old Bee Cave Road


Myths and misconceptions about roses

Roses are delicate plants.

Roses have to be sprayed all the time.

Roses are prone to disease.

Black spot is deadly.

New roses are better than old roses.

Old roses are climbers, have small flowers and bloom only in the spring.

Roses are purely ornamental.

Truths about roses

Relaxed rose growing without stress or poisons is possible.

Selection of roses is essential to success.

Location is key.

Lively plants need lively soil.

Old roses have tales to tell.